Creevey Russell family law specialist Jacinta Morris has cautioned that even where formal court orders are in place, parents who have failed to return a child or children to the other parent cannot be assisted by the police for their return.
The festive season can be an “unfortunate time” for the Queensland based lawyer, she said, who noted a rise in parental abductions when a parent fails to return a child to the other parent in contravention of a court order or contrary to an informal agreement.
While Ms Morris said the contravention of an order is a serious matter, “prosecution lies in a private contravention application filed in the Federal Circuit Court or Family Court by the other parent, and that is not something your local police can assist with".
Noting that police can perform a welfare check on children, Ms Morris said this can be “particularly useful if you have concerns about the ability of the other parent to meet the children’s immediate needs, or if there are safety concerns due to drug or alcohol abuse, violence or mental health issues.”
According to the lawyer, it is crucial for the welfare of children “that separating couples have proper plans in place for their care over the holidays.”
"It is important that any agreement you have about when the child is to be living with or spending time with each parent is in writing, as it will assist the court to understand when the children should have been returned,” she continued.
“While an informal agreement is not binding, it is still useful to assist the court to understand what has been agreed between the parents.”
She further explained that “the only way to formalise legally binding parenting arrangements is through an application to the Family Law Courts, whether it be an application by agreement for the making of consent orders, or an application for the court to determine who the children will live with and how much time they will spend with the other parent.”
For parents who do fail to have their children returned by the other parent, Ms Morris said there are a range of orders available to the court to assist with their return.
These include “directing police to locate the children and return them, orders requiring the other parent to return the children at a specified time, suspending the other parent’s time with the children, requiring the parents to participate in parenting courses, and various other measures depending on the circumstances,” she concluded.